What do you do when the excuses you used to “justify” an unwise and unnecessary war are completely discredited.
If you’re Vice President Dick Cheney, you make up a new one.
Cheney’s favorite excuse, the claim that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had significant ties to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, was never credible. But the vice president’s attempts to peddle the theory became absurd after it was rejected by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States. Cheney kept trying to spin the fantasy for weeks after 9 11 Commission reported that there was no working relationship between Hussein and al Qaeda. But he finally had to acknowledge during last Tuesday night’s debate with Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards that he has no evidence to sustain the claim.
Cheney’s second favorite excuse, the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that might threaten its neighbors and the United States, was never any more credible than the al Qaeda fantasy. But Cheney knew as he debated Edwards Tuesday night that it would be completely obliterated by a report scheduled for release the following day. That report, compiled by Charles A. Duelfer, chief arms inspector for the Central Intelligence Agency, confirmed what honest observers had known for years: that Iraq had under pressure from the United Nations eliminated its capacity to develop illicit weapons by the mid 1990s.
In a bind, Cheney grabbed during the debate for one of his most ridiculous “justifications”: the claim that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was harboring Abu Nidal, a Palestinian charged with masterminding acts of terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s. The problem with this claim is that Nidal died in August, 2002, two months before the Bush administration sought and received permission from the U.S. Congress to use force against Iraq.
Stuck for an excuse, Cheney hit the campaign trail the day after the debate with a new claim: The war has been necessary because Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi leaders were abusing the United Nations “Oil-for-Food” program. Dismissing the Duelfer report’s confirmation that Iraq had no stockpiles of WMDs, Cheney seized on the reports mention of “Oil-for-Food” program abuses to declare, “The suggestion is clearly there by Mr. Duelfer that Saddam had used the program in such a way that he had bought off foreign governments and was building support among them to take the sanctions down.” Then the vice president made the leap for a new justification for the invasion and occupation of Iraq: “As soon as the sanctions were lifted, he had every intention of going back” to his weapons program, the mind-reading vice president declared. Thus, said Cheney, “delay, defer, wait, wasn’t an option.”
There is little doubt that Hussein diverted money from the program, which was set up in 1996 to ease the burden on Iraqis who were suffering from hunger and lack of medical care as a result of the U.N. sanctions against the country. But as an excuse for invading and occupying a country, it is Cheney’s lamest excuse yet.